Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Choosing a Topic for a Doctoral Dissertation

A friend is choosing a topic for his doctoral dissertation and asked for advice.

"You should base both the topic and the texts you decide to analyze on passion. Whatever it is that you feel really passionate about will make a great topic," I said. "Remember that you will have to live and breathe this dissertation for at least two years. Unless you choose a topic that makes you light up, you run the risk of getting sick and tired of it long before you are finished."

"The main problem I have," the friend shared, "is that the texts I choose either have too much written about them or too little, so I keep eliminating them."

I always believed that choosing texts you will spend the next few years poring over dozens of times on the basis of what other people did or didn't do with them was a mistake. It's pretty much the same as being guided in your choice of a romantic partner by how many people expressed an interest in this person in the past. "She had many boyfriends, so she probably has no love left in her" and "nobody wanted this guy before, so why should I?" are sentiments that we attribute to very immature people.

It works exactly the same with analyzing works of art, in my opinion. This summer I'm planning to write an article on Leopoldo Alas's novel La Regenta. This is one of the most famous works of Spanish literature. Volumes of criticism have been written about it. However, that doesn't scare me at all. I don't believe that even a thousand years from now humanity will be able to exhaust everything that this great work of literature has to offer. Literature is so great precisely because it changes whenever it comes into contact with yet another thinking, critical reader.

If you really love a work of literature and spend enough time articulating your own reading of it, you will always be able to come up with something new and interesting to say about it. The meaning of a true work of art can never be exhausted. Only our own critical capacities can.

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

No comments: